Friday, July 26, 2019

Snaking along SR 129 through Eastern Washington’s Rattlesnake Canyon

By David Mosley

Like many motor enthusiasts, I enjoy a beautiful stretch of highway that offers a variable driving experience combined with astounding views. Nestled away in the southeastern corner of Washington is one such drive.
A sign marks the summit of Rattlesnake Ridge on SR 129, marking the beginning of
the highway’s decent through Rattlesnake Canyon.

It was my privilege to have recently visited State Route 129, which stretches from north to south across Asotin County. Its path took me through the breathtaking Rattlesnake Canyon down to the Grande Ronde River and south to the Oregon border.

I started on the highway where it begins in the city of Clarkston, which sits on the border with Idaho. The highway took me south along the Snake River to the town of Asotin where I climbed as the road weaved its way to the heights above the river and the fertile farm lands found there. It is here that SR 129 stretches out fairly flat for the next 15 or so miles, passing through the small town of Anatone to the summit of Rattlesnake Ridge. The summit at 3,965 feet is dotted with evergreens, with no indication of the visually astounding descent to and through Rattlesnake Canyon that is about to occur.
 Descending past evergreen trees, drivers on SR 129 begin to view parts of the upper reaches of Rattlesnake Canyon.

With the tall trees around me, interspersed with the occasional farmland, SR 129 quickly starts to descend and as the trees begin to thin, more and more of Rattlesnake Canyon comes into view. Ultimately it descends more than 2,700 feet, winding through more than 40 bends and turns as it makes its way down from the summit to the Grande Ronde River. While the speed limit can be as high as 50 mph, I recommend taking it slow and enjoying the drive on this remote section of highway.
SR 129 winds its way through more than 40 turns as it descends through Rattlesnake Canyon and
across the Grande Ronde River before snaking off toward the Oregon border.

Throughout the descent, there are numerous places to safely pull over and take in the sights. The canyon views are some of the most spectacular I have seen anywhere in the state! During my trip, I was able to spot deer in the thickets along the road, and even had to stop for a few ptarmigan that decided it was time to cross the highway. The sides of the canyon are filled with varying vegetation and rock formations. From turn to turn, the view was ever changing.
SR 129 sees a mixture of cars, motorcycles and heavy trucks but speeds allow for safe travel and there are
many pullouts allowing people to take in the views of the canyon.

During the drive, the roadway was smooth and in good repair with signs of pavement preservation dotting the trip. Traffic was light, with motorcycles seemingly outnumbering automobiles. There are heavy trucks that use the route, so be alert and give them space.
Motorcyclists on SR 129 cross the Grande Ronde River bridge at the bottom of Rattlesnake Canyon. Drivers descend
more than 2,700 feet from the top of Rattlesnake Ridge to the bottom of the canyon.

For those who would enjoy seeing Rattlesnake Canyon for themselves, it lies more than five hours east of Snoqualmie Pass, 2½  hours south of Spokane and about three hours east of the Tri-Cities. Exploring this area of the state might be best as part of a weekend trip. If you have the time, a detour to see Palouse Falls (a Washington State Discover Pass is required), and drive across the 90-year-old Lyons Ferry Bridge – which was originally built to cross the Columbia River and was later moved to its current location – are well worth taking.
SR 129 stretches through the bottom of Rattlesnake Canyon. Those traveling on it cross the Grande Ronde River,
snake along the bottom of the canyon then climb out to the Oregon border.

Or you can head down to the Tri-Cities area, passing through part of our wine country by taking US 12 through Walla Walla. No matter what you choose, there are lots of amenities as you drive to find SR 129, but please note that once you depart the Clarkston/Asotin area, there are few if any resources available until you arrive in the towns south in Oregon.
As drivers end their trip along SR 129, they’ll see the Welcome to Washington sign in their rearview mirror as they
enter Oregon. Once in Oregon the highway becomes SR 3, AKA the Lewiston Highway.

For me, this is now one of my favorite drives within our state and I cannot wait until I get to visit and drive the beautiful stretch of highway again!


DrifterDon said...

As proof of the attraction of the Rattlesnake, the two Victory motorcycle riders in the photo are from Calgary, Canada; and are regular visitors to the area just to enjoy the incredible motorcycling roads, particularly the Rattlesnake.

Calgary, Canada

Wuz said...

SR 129 is definately among Washington's most awesome drives for those wanting to get away from the heavy tourist traffic. For a nice day of chill-out driving, SR 129 ranks right alongside SR 21, SR 112 and even SR 410 and SR 14 except those are busy highways. SR 20? Overrated.
Thanx for the awesome article.

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